Melissa Moschella

Mar 9, 2021

To Whom Do Children Belong?

Parental Rights, Civic Education, and Children's Autonomy

Cambridge University Press 2016

The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton, which ruled that the Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination in employment extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status, may imperil the fundamental right of parents to educate their children in line with their values.

This right is examined brilliantly in the 2016 book, To Whom Do Children Belong? Parental Rights, Civic Education, and Children's Autonomy by scholar Melissa Moschella. Given the rise of the transgender movement and other aspects of wokeism, this book has only increased in importance. It is a rare combination of a serious scholarly work and a book that general audiences, particularly and crucially, the parents of school-age children should read.

Moschella addresses timely questions such as, “Can we defend parental rights against those who believe we need more extensive state educational control to protect children's autonomy or prepare them for citizenship in a diverse society?” and draws upon psychological and social scientific research to make a compelling philosophical argument for the right of parents to determine fundamental questions of morals when it comes to their children.

And this is not only a matter for philosophers. Moschella makes clear that under the cover of such seemingly innocuous verbiage as “diversity education” and “education for citizenship,” public schools are engaging in outright indoctrination of children in left-wing social justice and libertarian moral views. Moreover, progressives are increasingly targeting even private schools and some are even calling for an outright ban on homeschooling.

Moschella’s book is eerily prescient in the way she was able to predict that parents who seek to pass on a traditional understanding of sexuality find their efforts directly undermined in ever more public schools. Many parents cannot afford private schools or are unable to home school—and, as noted, even those refuges are under threat. Moschella foretold in her book that if the views of the progressive scholars whose arguments she delineates with scrupulous fairness prevail, parents will have no choice but to send their children into an educational environment that may sow damaging confusion about the basic truths of human identity.

Readers of this book need not even be religious but simply parents and other readers who worry that children will be stigmatized and parents’ rights erased if children are forced by schools to deny that maleness and femaleness are grounded on objective biological reality rather than subjective self-image, or that the purpose of human sexuality is not merely pleasure or self-expression, but to unite a man and woman in marriage and enable them to form a family. This is not solely a question of religious liberty but of conscience rights more broadly, which she discusses both authoritatively and movingly.

Moschella examines the arguments for expanding school choice, vouchers and granting exemptions when educational programs or regulations threaten parents' ability to raise their children in line with their values and moral codes.

The questions raised in this important book have become even more salient in the era of the Biden administration.

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Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.

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Hope J. Leman

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher in the biomedical sciences. She is particularly interested in the subjects of natural law, religious liberty and history generally.

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